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by Dr Gopal Das from Jan 2, 2018 to Mar 31, 2018.

Indian Institute of Management


Technical Note

Marketing Research Designs: A Note

One of the important steps in conducting a marketing research project is collection of specific
information from specific sources which would help in resolving the decision problem(s)
being faced by marketing executives. Research design may be defined as methods and
procedures for collection of such information.

Required information could be of two types. One which has already been collected and/or
processed, analysed, and reported called secondary data/information. The other which needs
to be collected fresh from a variety of sources, like consumer, trade, etc. is called primary
data/information. Most books on marketing research extensively cover research designs for
collection of primary data. However, treatment of designs for secondary data leaves much to
be desired. In the context of marketing research, research designs for collection of data from
secondary sources of information needs to be emphasized for the following reasons.

a) Different types of problems come up for decision-making with different frequencies of

occurrence. Some of these problems might be faced by decision makers every now and
then. Some others might be faced only once in a while. Every organization is likely to
have a fund of information (in-company information) on problems being faced
somewhat regularly. Also, even if the problem has not been faced with regularity by a
company, it might have been faced by other companies at least few times in a decade or
so. Obviously, information and experiences available to other companies would not be
easily available to the decision-maker in a company. However, someone (like a
researcher/ academician) could have written about it in journals, books, etc. Also,
government agencies, trade agencies, academicians and such other agencies do collect a
considerable amount of market information. Such information sources (outside sources)
could provide at least a part of the information required by the decision-maker.

b) Information of the type described in (a) above, particularly in-company information, is

generally used for decision-making by executives though not necessarily in an explicit
manner or a systematic way. A systematic follow-up of it and/or combining of such
information with experiences may not be a common feature in many organizations.

c) A research based on such information would be more acceptable to executives because

of their close touch and familiarity with the nature of such information.

This note would, therefore, place a little more emphasis on research designs for secondary
data. The first section (i) would discuss a basis for classifying research design from the point of

Prepared by Professor Abhinandan K. Jain, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

© 1980 by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

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view of a marketing executive. The next section (ii) would describe some of the important
criteria which could be used in selection/evaluation of appropriate designs. The third section
(iii) would provide an overview of specific research designs. The last section (Sec. 4) would
provide conclusions on research design.



Research designs could be classified by many criteria. The classification used here has been
chosen because of its relevance to the decision-maker. A decision-maker should be able to
understand various research designs in the context of his purpose for decision-making. This
selection would first discuss the purposes an executive could have in asking for research
(additional) information. It would, next, briefly describe the classification of research design
according to the major purpose of decision-making.

A. Purpose of Research for Decision Making

A marketing executive would probably mention one or more number of purposes for seeking
additional information. Some of these purposes are mentioned below:

1. Information required for making a decision in one of the substantive areas of marketing:
product, price, promotion, distribution, sales management, etc.
2. Information required for making a strategic or tactical decision
3. Information required for making a decision which could have long term or short term
4. Information required for improving the decision making process in the context of a
specific decision

While all these (and probably some others) could be defined as valid purposes of decision
making in a specific context, improved decision making process would be chosen as the
purpose of decision maker. This is because whether the decision pertains to a substantive area
of decision making or the time perspective, or the nature of decision (strategic vs. tactical) an
executive must strive for an improved explicit process which could help i) him in taking a
better decision, ii) in improving his decision making skills in the general area of decision
making in marketing, and iii) his successors in improving their decision making. This does
not, however, imply that an improved decision making process could be evolved without a
good understanding of the context of the problem situation. Far from it. The decision maker
must understand such a context of his problem situation. However, even if he were familiar
with the context, he most probably would not be able to arrive at a best decision if he did not
follow a proper process of decision making.

The process of decision making consists of the following steps:

a. Identifying the problem(s)

b. Identifying alternative courses of action to resolve the problem(s)
c. Specifying criteria for evaluating alternative course of action for resolving a problem
d. Evaluating each course of action on the criteria for the problem
e. Selecting the best course(s) of action for the problem(s)

The purpose of collecting additional information (conduct a research study), therefore, must
be consistent with the above five steps of the decision making process. To understand the
purpose of research, it is necessary to understand the different kinds of information required
by the decision-maker in going through the above five steps.
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Defining a problem has already been dealt in the "Note on Problem Definition in Marketing
Research" (MNV). The note specified the steps in defining a problem. Two of the important
steps described in the note were a study of information available from secondary sources of
information and in-depth discussions with relevant persons (company executives, other
informed people, consumers, traders, etc.) to properly define a problem. It may be recalled
that similar steps were suggested to specify the alternative courses of action and the objectives
and decision criteria. If the decision maker is fairly sure of his own diagnosis of the problem,
the alternatives available, and decision criteria to be used, he need not ask for additional
information to go through the first three steps of decision making. In case he does ask for more
information, he in effect is telling the researcher to help him in understanding the problem
situation better: Could there be other problems? Could there be other alternatives? Could there
be some more criteria? Is his understanding of the three steps consistent with each other? He is
not asking for any definite measures of the relationships between criterion variables and the
actions to be taken by him or the intermediate variables affecting the outcomes of his actions.
The purpose of research for helping him in better specification of the three steps (a, b, and c)
could, therefore, be termed as an exploration into the problem situation at hand.

In the case of the fourth step (evaluating the alternative courses of action on the decision
criteria), the decision maker might require strong inferences in terms of specific values of the
criterion variables which would be obtained if a particular course of action was taken. Now
the relationship between the action alternative and the criteria variables could be direct or
could be influenced by some intermediate variables/phenomenon existing in the problem
situation. Discovery of such variables/phenomenon again is required and the process for that
is akin to some kind of exploration in the situation. However, actual evaluation of alternatives
would call for strong inferences (prediction) about the value of criterion variables which
would be achieved if a particular course of action was taken.

The final step of choosing the best alternative if one alternative is superior on all criteria would
be a fairly simple one. However, in many situations, an alternative might be better on some
criteria and worse on some other. This step, therefore, requires some prioritization of different
criteria. The information required for this step (obtainable from primary and secondary
sources, mostly in-company) needs to be gathered before going through the alternative
evaluation phase along with exploration for specifying criteria.

The purpose of research for decision making could, therefore, be classified as exploratory and
inference building or conclusive research.

Conclusive research has two important sub-components: descriptive and causative. A

marketing executive might be interested in describing different segments of the market in
terms of their socio-economic-demographic characteristics and their media habits to decide
about the media plan for his product. In a different context he could also be interested in
describing a market phenomenon or association of different marketing variables. This is a
fairly common type of information needed by executives for decision making or otherwise.

In the ultimate analysis, a marketing executive is interested in predicting the effects of his
actions in terms of the evaluation criteria set up by him. A descriptive research could probably
help him in predicting such effects. However, a mere association of actions taken on his part
with the outcomes which resulted does not necessarily mean they were caused by his actions.
To be sure of the effects of his actions, he needs to eliminate other possible causes which could
result (fully or partially) in similar effects. A research which is aimed at finding such causation
is termed as causative research. An in-depth understanding of such designs would provide an
executive the insights for effectively evaluating such research.
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From the point of view of the kind of purpose that an executive could have in mind for
conducting research, research designs could, therefore, be classified as exploratory,
descriptive, and causative. All three types of research purposes could utilize both kinds of
data, i.e. data from secondary sources (both in-company and outside) and data from primary

B. Overview of Classification of Marketing Research Designs

This sub-section would provide a brief overview of each of the three classes of research
designs, i.e. exploratory, descriptive, and causative.

1. Exploratory Research
Exploratory research is conducted for i) identification of precise nature of problems and
variables involved in a phenomenon, ii) formulating precise alternative courses of action or
decision criteria or specific hypothesi(e)s, and iii) understanding the broad nature of
relationships among variables/ components of a problem/phenomenon/criteria.

A research design for exploratory research is characterized by a great amount of flexibility in

formulating questions, etc. and a rather small base of sample observations. This kind of
method is almost dictated because the researcher does not have much knowledge about the
subject area and is trying to find his way around the problem/phenomenon under
consideration. However, in the course of conducting a descriptive/causative research, a
researcher might come across some new phenomenon or variables as a by-product. He might
use some inferential methods to reveal some new problems, some new hypotheses, or decision
criteria which are important.

Exploratory research could be conducted on data from secondary and/or primary sources. In
the case of secondary sources of information the designs pertain to either i) raw data and/or,
ii) studies/cases on similar or analogous situations. In the case of primary data, the design
could include: i) a survey of small number of knowledgeable persons/representative
situations, ii) case studies, or iii) motivation research techniques to uncover latent dimensions.

2. Descriptive Research
Descriptive research in marketing is concerned with describing a marketing phenomenon in
terms of a set of specific variables whether individually or in pairs or in terms of a sub-sets of
variables taken together. These studies generally involve the description of the extent of
association between two or more variables (like advertising budget and sales). The research
designs are, therefore, characterized by considerable pre-planning about the specification of
variables, their measures, ways of collecting such information, etc. They are also characterized,
in contrast to exploratory research, by a much higher degree of formalization and structuring
in the conduct of research. Such research designs generally used in marketing are a) based on
secondary sources, b) case studies, c) large scale surveys, d) experiments, and e) simulation. 1

3. Causal Research Designs

The information obtained from descriptive research designs is often useful for not only
descriptive but also predictive purposes. However, unless considerable care is taken in
isolating the effect of several independent variables while designing data collection

1 Some authors include model building as a research design. Given the definition of research design in this note,
model building does not qualify.
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procedures, it may not be possible, to establish a causal relationship between a number of

independent variables and a (set of) dependent variable(s).

Cause-effect relationships could be inferred from the degree of association obtained through
descriptive research between dependent and independent variables. However, if the values of
independent variables (and other variables which could effect dependent variables) are not
controlled, some further exercise of events and/or absence of (effects of) other possible factors
suggests causation. On the other hand, there could be research designs in which other possible
factors are controlled and the causation established directly. The types of designs used for
causal studies are a) based on secondary sources, b) experiments (both natural and controlled),
and d) simulation.

C. Conclusions

It is quite possible that an executive might have one or two or all the three purposes for
conducting research for resolving a decision problem. In some situation an exploratory
research might be sufficient to help the decision-maker in selecting the best alternative, in
another situation the descriptive research itself might lead to sufficient information for
decision-making, and in yet another situation a causative research might be required. A
descriptive research design requires an exact specification of variables. It also requires, in the
case of testing the significance of association among variables, prior hypotheses about the
extent of association which the research is expecting. All this is possible only if such
specification is feasible whether on the basis of an exploratory research or otherwise. Similarly,
experimental research could be effectively designed if the kind of information available from
exploratory and descriptive research is known to the researcher.


Selection of a proper research design is both an art and a science. It requires a high degree of
professional skill and experience to be able to make such a decision. Some of the
considerations which go into selecting a proper design are i) validity of results, ii) reliability of
results, iii) desired level of secrecy in study, iv) available time for the study, v) cost vs benefits
of study, vi) availability of required type of personnel, and vii) researchers' personnel

Validity of Results: A research design should be so chosen that the information and results
obtained through it are about the real variable/phenomenon under study and are consistent
with each other.

Reliability of Results: The chosen research design should be such that if the same design is
employed to gather same information from other similar respondents, the results and the
information obtained would not be significantly different from the ones obtained earlier.

Secrecy: In a competitive environment, it is sometimes very essential that the kind of study
and results should be kept confidential. Such situations arise particularly in the case of new
product introduction, pricing decisions, etc. A design, therefore, should be such that the
information about the study of results remains secret to the desired extent. Generally, it is
much easier to keep the results secret but the study and possible options being tested could
become known to competitors if a large scale study is undertaken in the field.

Time Available for Study: The time available for conducting the study is not only governed by
the dates set for decision-making in a marketing plan but also by the degree of secrecy
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required in the particular situation. A decision selected for the study should be such that it is
completed in the time that the above considerations warrant.

Cost vs Benefits of Study: Generally, the cost of conducting the study should not exceed the
expected value of losses that would be incurred if a wrong decision was made on the basis of
available information. Bayesian statistics could be made use of to assess this aspect of a design.

Personnel Requirement: The study selected should be such which requires the kind of
personnel (for designing and executing it and for analysing and interpreting the data) who are
available to the organization (either within or outside) and have time to devote to the study
during the planned phase.

Personal Preferences of Researchers: Available research designs need to be evaluated on all the
aspects mentioned above. If factual information was available on the above aspects, it looks a
pretty scientific way of evaluating alternative designs. However, factual information is
generally not available and in some cases, like quality of personnel, cannot be available with a
high degree of certainty. It is here that the personal experience of the researcher, which is
probably coloured, plays a significant role. All that can be said is that the researcher should try
and be objective to the extent he can in evaluating the design. However, his decision would be
final because it is ultimately his responsibility. The skill or art of making such decisions is
equally important for the researcher.


The main purpose of this section is to provide assessment of each of the specific research
designs identified in Sec. 1 on the criterion variables identified in Sec. 2. Besides, a brief
discussion and the pros and cons of each design would also be presented.

A. Study of Secondary Sources of Information

There are two broad types of secondary sources of information: internal or in-company and
external. Also, as discussed earlier, they could be used for either of the three purposes of
research identified earlier, exploratory, descriptive, and causal.

Study of Internal Sources of Information

A number of in-company sources exist where information might have been generated. The
most important sources could be, (i) invoices and other accounting documents, (ii) reports of
field sales staff, (iii) inter-departmental memos, (iv) minutes of the meetings held for resolving
similar problems, and (v) data and research reports in the MR department.

The information available from accounting records could pertain to sales (both physical
quantity, and rupee value as well as price) of products by destination and time. Also, costs of
various marketing activities (promotion, salaries of staff, costs of field offices, etc.) could also
be obtained from this source. Reports of field sales staff (salesman, supervisor, etc.) could
contain both the record of company's own sales as well as assessments of competitors sales.
They could also contain qualitative information about market outlook, specific local
conditions, competitor's activities in the market place, etc. Inter-departmental memos and
minutes of meetings, etc. could contain important information about similar decisions in the
past and organization's current concerns about marketing/sales. Reports/data available in the
marketing research and/or information system departments could also be quite useful.
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A sound and insightful study and analysis of these sources could lead to an improved
definition of decision/research problem, identification of alternative courses of action, and
criteria variables for solving the problem(s) at hand. It could also help in describing both
qualitatively and quantitatively marketing phenomenon as well as relationships among
variables. By using the methods of establishing sequence of events, and non-presence of other
causal variables, it could also be used for establishing causal relationships. The first task in the
study would be to cull out relevant information and establish its validity and reliability in the
context of the problem at hand. Next, depending on the type of data (qualitative/quantitative)
the researcher would have to use contextual knowledge, theoretical knowledge, and/or
statistical methods to arrive at sound inferences. These would mostly be descriptive. However,
in certain situations he may find data which could allow him to draw causal inferences.

The information obtainable from in-company sources, as is true of any other sources of
information, could pertain to facts and/or opinions. It is extremely necessary that the
researcher establishes the true nature of information as compared to what is stated even in the
case of data which could be generally classified as facts. For example, sales during a month
could include sales of one/two days of the next month if the monthly quotas are strictly
adhered to in the system. The chances of error in the case of opinions are much more by the
very nature of information. The types of errors that crop up are: (i) personal bias of the person
reporting the information, (ii) mis-interpretation of the information by him for genuine
reasons, and (iii) deliberate mis-interpretation for selfish/other purposes.

Obtaining information from internal records/sources costs very little, is completely a secret
method (at least so far as competitors are concerned), and more often than not requires much
less time to gather as compared to information from other sources. Information so collected
could be valid and reliable if the task is entrusted to a person who understands the systems
and procedures of the company and who has knowledge about the credibility of people
supplying such information. Such person is generally available in research departments/other
departments of a company. He, however, must possess superior skills to arrange and analyse
all such information. (These would be discussed in notes on data collection and data analysis.)
This is particularly so if the researcher wants to draw descriptive and/or causal inferences.

External Sources of Information

External information is defined as information collected by an agency other than the

organization. Information available from a variety of external sources could be of different
types, (a) collection of facts about any variable and/or phenomenon, (b) research studies
which may or may not present raw data (facts, opinions, etc.) but do present analysis and
interpretation of data, and (c) case studies describing specific problem situations with or
without data and their analysis. While making use of external data, it is very essential to
evaluate the bonafides of the organization which collected the data and the purpose for which
they were collected. Generally, government agencies which are engaged in regular data
collection could be relied upon much more compared to trade associations or the like which
might have collected such data for lobbying purposes. Also, in either case, the definition of
variables, instruments of data collection, and sampling plan must be gone into, as far as
possible, to ascertain the usefulness and the accuracy of data. Such sources of data (priced
publications) are generally not very costly except when a commercial organization is offering a
syndicated service.

Research studies and case studies should also be evaluated in the same manner. The
usefulness of such studies should be viewed by similar yardsticks as mentioned above. An
additional check would be the appropriateness of data analysis techniques used in the study
and the manner of interpretation.
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Such information along with information from in-company sources could be used to all three
types of research purposes, i.e. exploratory, descriptive, and causal, if such information was
available. These sources of information cost more than in-company sources of information as
the research would probably require travel, etc. in search of documents. Validity and
reliability of such information is to be gauged in the manner described above. Such research
effort could also be quite secret. Persons undertaking such research design must possess a
high degree of contextual familiarity and data analysis/ interpretation skills.

B. Indepth Studies

This is a method, as the name suggests, of studying a situation in detail, more so in a holistic
sense. The method is generally used for exploratory purposes, i.e. identifying new variables in
a situation, identifying tentative relationships among variables, etc. There are generally three
different designs which could be used: indepth personal interviews, leaderless group
discussions, and observation of situations wherever feasible (i.e. traffic flaw pattern in a large
retail outlet).

For exploratory purposes, it is necessary to identify situations/persons who could provide

insights into the phenomenon the researcher is looking for. Indepth personal interviews as
well as leaderless group discussions about topic(s) of interest provide rich information about
variables, relationship, etc. related to a phenomenon under study. There is very little direction
in both these methods from the researcher. The indpeth observation method, thought
applicable to many situations, is particularly useful for identifying actual behavioural
dimensions (like how people move in a department store).

Such studies might be used for descriptive and causal purposes as well. This would be true in
most situations where only a handful of respondents exist or are selected as sample because of
cost and other considerations. Examples of such situations could be an industrial marketing
situation where few consumers exist, study of distributors of the company, and study of
managers of a company to understand the decision-making process.

The validity and reliability of results (information) obtained from such studies depend on the
type of individuals/situations selected as well as the skills of the researcher conducting the
study in terms of right kinds of questions, and their timings, comprehension abilities, etc. The
cost of locating such respondents may be high in some situations but is generally quite low.
These types of studies require a considerable time to execute with each person/group/
situation, although the sample size is rather small. The person conducting such studies should
have certain skills, like gently and smoothly guiding the discussion in areas where exploration
is required and yet not restricting the flow to an extent where new ideas do not come up.

A researcher might come across (a number of) indepth study(ies) in literature about the
problem under consideration. An assessment of the usefulness of the studies would require
the checks already mentioned in sub-section `A' of this section. It would also require some
knowledge about the competence of person(s) who conducted such studies. An acid test
would be based on the conceptual and the contextual knowledge of the researcher as to
whether the phenomenon/variable/relationships identified in the reported indepth study
make adequate sense or not.

C. Study of Case(s)

A case is a description of a real-life situation/phenomenon. Development of case study(ies) in

the context of a decision may be required if indepth studies are not likely to provide a
reasonable view of the decision situation. This may happen in situations where more than one
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group of respondents/situations need to be studied for obtaining a perspective of the decision

situation. Take for example, a decision situation of whether to distribute goods through
distributors or company's own sales force. The decision maker might require information on
feelings of customers, reactions of distributors, reactions of own sales force/managers, as well
as performance variables (effectiveness/efficiency) of the two alternatives. While each of these
aspects could be studied through an indepth study/other exploratory/descriptive/ causal
study designs, a case study would put all such information in a perspective of decision

Case writing is an art which needs to be perfected by the researcher over a period of time.
Such skills are not available very widely. Also, writing a case about a situation is much more
time consuming than probably indepth personal/group interviews. However, the information
so collected, if analysed well, could sharpen the analytical skills of problem definition,
identification of alternatives and decision criteria as well as evaluation of alternative courses of
action. In an organizational setting, therefore, exploratory, descriptive as well as causal

It must be emphasized that the use of cases for exploratory purposes is fairly well accepted;
however, their use as descriptive and/or inference building tools is not so widely accepted.

A researcher might come across a number of case studies in literature having some bearing on
the kind of problem being tackled. As cases are essentially holistic descriptions, their analysis
also has to be of a similar type. The researcher would be able to find certain features of the
problem/situation which in a holistic sense is common to almost all cases. Some other features
may fit the problem situation of a few cases only and still others may be specific to a case. Such
an exercise of study of cases is likely to sharpen and aid in all the three types of purposes of

D. Motivation Research

The scope of motivation research has been defined differently by different researchers at
different points of time. The term is being used here to mean "motives" of human beings
(consumers, retailers, managers, etc.) in taking certain decisions. In the context of buyers'
behaviour the term implies research which would lead to identification of motives and their
prioritization in selection of products/brands/stores, etc.

Research into human motives has been primarily conducted by researchers in the disciplines
of psychology and sociology. A number of techniques were developed for researching human
motivation. The important ones which have been used more in marketing are TAT and
Research Ink Blot Tests. (Marketing researchers have extensively drawn upon questioning
techniques from disciplines of psychology and sociology.)

These techniques require special tools like picture cards for TAT and ink blots for other one.
The qualitative responses are coded, scored, and interpreted for use. There are many problems
involved in this method. First is that exports in the field are required for interpreting the
results and very few of such experts are available. The fees are exorbitant. Experts in this field
have not been able to standardize the interpretations because of differences in their thinking.
In spite of these drawbacks it is very useful for consumer research, because sometimes
consumer himself is not consciously aware of his behaviour or reasons for such behaviour and
the study might help identify such elements of his behaviour.

E. Survey Research
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Survey research design refers to a design in which information about specified variables is
collected from a large number of specified type of respondents using questioning and/or
observation method. Most marketing research studies conducted for drawing inferences
(whether descriptive or causal) use a survey research design. The focus of information
collection is the summary values of variables of interest and the extent and significance of
relationship (association) among two or more variables. This is quite different from indepth
studies, case studies, etc. where the individual or a phenomenon is the focus of research in a
holistic sense.

It is quite clear that such a design could be easily used for descriptive purposes. For drawing
causal inferences, the researcher might have to introduce certain changes in the data collection
instruments to derive causation from descriptive measures of association. These would pertain
to information on timing of certain events/variables or information about other variables
which could influence the intended/actual behaviour. This is because these are some of the
ways in which causation could be established through information on association among

The problem of "which respondents" to interview and how exactly to ask questions/observe
for eliciting/collecting information are the most important aspects which influence the
validity and reliability of results obtained through such a research. Techniques of sampling to
choose proper respondents and of scaling instruments, therefore, have to be devised in great
detail. A researcher must be thoroughly familiar with concepts as well as applicability of these
techniques in specific situations to obtain valid and reliable information. He should have
sufficient skills and knowledge about use of statistical methods to later on conduct the
analysis of large amount of information collected so that it could be presented in a concise and
meaningful manner.

The cost of conducting surveys is much larger compared to the designs described earlier. This
is so because of three important aspects, (i) design of sample plan, (ii) design of instrument of
data collection, and (iii) conduct of a large number of actual interviews. Design of a sample
plan requires the specification and identification of population of interest. Many time such
information is not available and need to be generated (a survey/census for the same may have
to be done). There are several pitfalls in getting the desired response from respondents. A
good questionnaire (instrument) which elicits such information, therefore, needs to be
prepared and tested on a limited scale before committing resources for a full scale study.
Finally, locating a large number of respondents and administering the questionnaire is a time
consuming task. The researcher may have to employ and train a number of investigators to
actually locate and interview/observe respondents for getting valid and reliable information.

Invariably the conduct of a survey research would become known to competitors. The design,
therefore, is low on the criterion of secrecy.

F. Experimental Research Designs

An experiment may be defined as the actual trial of an alternative course of action for
objectively observing (measuring) its effects. From the point of view of decision making, this
design comes closest to the ideal for evaluating the effects of alternative courses of action. The
design also is causative as the effects of other variables (other than the alternative being tested)
are controlled or isolated to get the true effects of the alternative being tested. Therefore,
whenever and wherever feasible, such a design should be used in inferential/causative
studies in marketing.
The basic process of experimentation requires:
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1. specification of alternative course(s) of action to be tested, and of measures of effects

2. selection of representative sample(s) of target segment depending on the specific
experimental research design
3. expose the group(s) to alternative course(s) of action
4. conduct data analysis to isolate the effects of alternative course(s) of action.

Specification of alternative courses of action implies the specification of a number of variables

to be tested and their specific values. For example, in the case of a new product decision there
may be only one new product which has to be tested. In another situation price and product
may be two variables each having two values (price A, price B, and product C and product D).
The researcher might also wish to find out the interaction effect between the two variables.

The number of sample groups is determined once an experimental design is selected in the
context of the research situation (types of experimental designs to be dealt later). The
composition of sample in each group should be representative of the target population. This
later aspect would be dealt in note on sampling.

Specification of measurements includes both the measurement of effects and other variables
which cannot be controlled in the design itself so that the effects of experimental variables
could be isolated.

The bases which allow causal inferences to be drawn were described as associative variation,
sequence of events, and absence of other possible causal factors. The measurement of
associative variation implies use of statistical techniques and sequence of events is in-built into
an experiment (measurement of effects after the manipulation and exposure of sample
respondent to the experimental variable). There are five classes of variables which might
influence the results and which need to be taken care of while designing an experiment. These
are, (i) history, (ii) maturation, (iii) testing effect, (iv) instrument effect, and (v) selection.

Historical variables are these which are extraneous to the design like competitive promotion,
etc. The people involved in the experiment might mature in the process of conducting the
experiment like customers becoming better acquainted with the product being tested,
salesmen becoming more competent in handling the product, etc. The people involved in the
experiment might behave differently because of their knowledge that they are taking part in
an experiment (this is called the testing effect). The measures of effects (like rupee value of
sales) might get affected by changes in price of the product. This effect is called instrument
effect. Lastly, the selection of respondents whether it is on a random basis or purposive would
affect the outcome of the experiment. All the above five types of extraneous variables might
influence the validity of results.

These are two broad classifications of experimental research designs: laboratory experiments
and field experiments.

Laboratory experiments

Laboratory experiments involve measuring the effects of experimental variables on a sample

of respondents collected for the purpose of experiment. As the experiment is generally
conducted at a place, the researcher has/can exercise considerable control over the extraneous
variables. Also, the situation provides opportunity to collect data about a number of mental
processes/variables (attitudes, etc.) through a method of questioning. However, it is obvious
that the actual behaviour in such a situation can at best be simulated. Therefore, a laboratory
experiment could have internal validity (i.e. effect of experimental variable(s) in terms of
measures of effects would not be interfered by other variables, etc.). However, whether these
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results would hold in field where other variables do play a role is somewhat questionable.
One of the sources of error in external validity could probably be controlled, i.e.
representativeness of sample group(s) by some sampling procedures (described in a later

Laboratory experiments have high internal validity, low external validity, low cost, and could
be ranked high on secrecy. The deign of an experiment, however, requires considerable skill.
The guiding principles in this respect are: (i) use of representative sample, (ii) exposure of the
group/individual to experimental variable(s) in a manner that true effects be isolated, (iii)
creation of conditions which are as close to reality as possible and yet not allow extraneous
variables to have non-measurable effects on the respondents.

Field experiments

Laboratory experiments are relatively new entrants as tools of marketing research. Field
experiments (testing of effects of experimental variable(s) in a real-life field setting) have been
used in marketing research for a longer period. The uses, however, have been few and far
between. The major reasons for this have been (i) the high costs of planning and running a
field experiment, and (ii) the resistance from managers/field staff to manipulate marketing
variables. A properly planned field experiment could provide valid results. However, if the
environmental conditions which existed during the experiment change later on, the results
might not be valid. Also, the design of field experiments requires considerable expertise and
ingenuity in planning and conducting on the part of the researcher. Designs pertaining to one
and two experimental variables would be briefly described.

Designs for One Experimental Variable

i) After only with One Central Group: This design has two groups on whom
measurements are taken after the experiment is over. One of the groups is subjected to
the experimental variable and the other is not subjected to any manipulation. The
difference of effects between two groups provides a measure of the effect of the
experimental variable. This design avoids effects of testing and instrument. However,
lack of knowledge about prior status of the groups might imply that results are not valid.
The design could be used where either pre-measurement is impossible and/or where
testing and instrument effects are likely to be very high.

ii) Before After with One Central Group: This is a design similar to the one described in (i)
except that before measures are also taken on each of the groups. In this design the
effects of maturation, testing, and history are taken care of. However, a potential
instrument effect exists which is not taken care of.

Use of designs with many more groups seems to be difficult in marketing because of cost
considerations. Designs like four group - six study (measurements) exist to take care of the
effects of almost all possible extraneous variables (not described here).

Designs for More than One Experimental Variable

Only two variable designs would be dealt here. These, however, can be generalized for
multiple experimental variables.

i) Factorial Design: This design is useful when the researcher is interested in testing the
effects of more than one experimental variable with more than one level of values. A
special feature of this type of design is that the effects of interaction among the variables
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can also be studied. The number of sample groups to be used would be equal to the
multiplication of evens of values of each of the experimental variable. For example, if
two levels of price have to be tested and three levels of advertising expenditure, the
number of sample groups required would be 2x3 = 6. Each group would be exposed to a
level of price and a level of advertising expenditure.

ii) Latin Square Designs: In case the researcher wants to test more than one variable but if
the interaction effects among the variables either do not exist or are not likely to be
significant, he could use what is known as the Latin Square design. This kind of a design
reduces the requirement of number of groups considerably as compared to factorial
designs. Suppose four pack designs, four prices, and four levels if in store promotions
need to be tested. In a factorial design, the researcher would need (4x4x4) sixty-four
sample groups of stores or at least sixty-four representative stores. However, by testing
in a store one combination of the three variables, the requirement of number of (groups
of) stores can be reduced to only (16) sixteen. In this design, the interaction effects among
variables cannot be estimated.


This note has provided a brief overview of research designs in marketing from the point of
view of a user of research information. The first section discussed and specified the purpose of
research in the context of decision making process. The same section also classified research
designs on the basis of purpose, i.e. exploratory, descriptive, and causal. An understanding of
this type on the part of a decision maker is useful for better specification of research needs and
better utilization of information collected through research and its results.

The second section described a number of criteria which can be used to evaluate proposed
marketing research designs. The third section described specific research designs in terms of i)
what is the design, ii) how and to what extent can it be used for the three purposes of research
that the decision maker might have, and iii) how does it rate on the criteria for choosing a
research design.

It is important to emphasize that the acid test for evaluating alternative research designs is to
check the degree of validity and reliability of information vis a vis the cost of executing such a
design. Considerable amount of ingenuity is required in developing/adopting an existing
design to a particular situation at hand. The researcher, therefore, must be familiar with the
context of the problem; concepts and theories having a bearing on the research situation; and a
thorough knowledge of the research designs. Marketing research has drawn heavily on
research designs in behavioural sciences. Some knowledge about research designs in this area
would be quite helpful.